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Central Highlands

Region 6: Central Highlands

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More so than other areas of the country, the Central Highlands Region is steeped in rich tradition and history.

Scattered with colonial towns set among the rolling hills, the Central Highlands region is one of the most enchanting in the country. It is often referred to as El Corazón, or the heartland, of Mexico.

The area had strategic importance during the early colonization of the country in the 16th century, following the Spaniards’ discovery of silver deposits. The ensuing wealth and cultural mix paved the way for the rich customs, art and folklore one finds here today, along with traditional families, religious conservatism, opulent cathedrals and mansions, and quirky mining towns. It was later the scene of the first steps towards independence from the Spanish in the early 19th century and its other nickname, especially applied to the state of Guanajuato, is La Cuna de Independencia (the Cradle of Independence).

The region’s historical importance continued in neighboring Querétaro, with the signing of the treaty that ended the Mexican-American War, the execution of Maximilian of Hapsburg in 1867, and the signing of the Mexican Constitution. The result is an abundance of museums, historical information, fine government buildings, colonial architecture, churches, and a chance to learn more about quintessential Mexico.

The Central Highlands, locally referred to as El Bahío for being a fertile flat region surrounded by mountains, is characterized by its modern agriculture and heavy rainfall. The climate is very attractive, warm in summer without being too hot, and fresh but not very cold in winter. This has helped draw a large community of expatriates and retirees since the 1940s.

The region is also prosperous, with economic activity including mining, agriculture, leather goods, as well as exports of motor vehicles and car parts, chemicals, and electric machinery. Consequently, transport and communication networks are efficient, making it a welcoming and accessible destination for foreign visitors. It is served by Guanajuato International Airport in León, with direct flights to Los Angeles, Dallas, Houston, Chicago, and other U.S. cities.

With a variety of festivals and strong local traditions, the Central Highlands have long been a cultural magnet for outsiders. For over 60 years, San Miguel de Allende, the principal destination for U.S. citizens, has been attracting seasoned travelers, artists, and bohemians looking for alternatives to conventional retirement. This quaint, laid-back town with some New Age leanings, offers various Spanish-language schools, university courses, sculpting, writing, and painting workshops, as well as charitable and conservationist activities.

Neighboring Guanajuato is a pleasant day trip from most of the cities high-lighted in this region, and hosts hundreds of foreign exchange and Spanish-language students seeking its fine university and arts and theater activities. Probably the most visually striking of Mexico’s mining towns, it boasts a labyrinth of underground tunnels and constricting cobblestone streets. These make it appear to be more like an Escher lithograph than a functioning city.

The nearby town, León, is an industrial hub and does not have a comparable tourist draw. Querétaro, however, with a well-preserved historic center, is growing as a tourist attraction even as it expands as an employer of skilled labor, with chemical plants and high-tech developments appearing in recent years.

The State of San Luis Potosí, to the northeast, shares similar characteristics of mining history, colonial expansion, modern agriculture, and industry. It has an attractive historic downtown that is gradually seeing an increase in foreign visitors. These three towns are endowed with some of the better medical institutions in the country, making their inclusion imperative in this guidebook.

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